Staph is short for staphylococcus aureus, a common form of bacteria that has become an increasing problem in today’s world. Staph is not typically found on normal skin, but we are exposed to it constantly and it is easy for a scratch or cut to become infected with staph. When that happens, the wound becomes red and swollen, and scabbing or pus drainage is common. If not treated, the staph can spread into the deeper tissues, causing a true cellulitis. That in turn in rare cases can lead to staph bloodstream infection, a highly dangerous and often fatal condition.
Fortunately this is rare for most people with normal immunity. However, over the last decade a huge change in staph has occurred. Because of many years of indiscriminant use of antibiotics, staph bacteria have in many cases become resistant to the antibiotics that were relied on for treatment. These methicillin-resistant strains, known as MRSA (methicillin-resistant staph aureus), were once found only in hospitals. They have now spread into the community and a significant percentage of the staph cases seen in dermatology offices are now caused by MRSA. The rapid spread of MRSA has caused major epidemics in settings such as schools, gyms, and among athletic teams where skin-to-skin contact is common. Early detection, including the use of cultures to determine antibiotic resistance, is crucial to preventing more serious infections requiring hospitalization.